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Publication Title | The Basics– System Design

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The Basics– System Design

Richard Perez

©1991 Richard Perez

System design harnesses a site's specific renewable power sources. System

design precisely determines the right type and size of energy hardware required

to meet the system's power needs. Here we decide which power sources to use– solar, wind, or hydro. We decide the type and size of the power sources– how many PV panels or how big a wind or hydro turbine. We decide the type and size of the system's battery. We decide the types and sizes of the inverter, controls, and instrumentation. A system's cost and utility are determined by these critical decisions.

A Big Deal?

Yes, system design is a big deal. Proper design requires the information generated from the system's power use survey and the system's site survey. The system's designer must match the available natural power sources with the specific electrical power requirements of the system's users. If there is no thorough power use survey or site survey, then it is impossible to design the system. So, before you can specify any hardware, you must do your homework. If you are vague on the details of the system's power use, or surveying a site for renewable energy potential, then see The Basics in Home Power #21 about use and site survey.

The decisions made in designing a renewable energy system will determine if the system is effective or not. Each system is unique. Each system is located in a different location with differing power requirements. A system should fit its user like a hand-made pair of boots. Your system should be as unique as you are. Your system should be as unique as your site. Don't accept a generic, off–the–shelf system. Your RE system will provide a lifetime of effective power if it is properly designed. If not properly designed, then it will leave you in the dark and empty your bank account, all at the same time. System design is the place to discover any mistakes– in theory and on paper, BEFORE you spend money on the wrong hardware.

System Costs

The decisions made in a system's design directly effect the system's cost. The design phase of a RE system is a very good time to consult someone with current knowledge and extensive experience. The details of which PV module to use, which hydro to buy, how high to put up the wind machine, what kind of battery, how big of

a battery to use, and myriad other details greatly effect a system's cost. If you want a cost-effective system, then work with someone who knows how to design a system, or learn the process yourself. The shortest path to a well–designed system points directly to your local, installing RE dealer. These guys are familiar not only with the latest hardware and how to apply it, but also your local renewable energy resources.


This article is designed to give you the Basics of system design. It provides enough information for you to discuss your situation intelligently with someone familiar with renewable power hardware and your local environment. If you are going to specify your system without the aid of a techie, then you will need more information than is provided here.

Why don't I tell you all the information you need? Well, I've been involved in well over a hundred of these systems in the last twenty years, and I'm still learning new things daily. The hardware used in RE systems is changing rapidly. Consider that an entire book could be written on each hardware component in the system. That's a fact; I know because I've written one on batteries alone. Consider that the combinations of different types and kinds of hardware number in the thousands. Consider that a system's designer must select from these thousand of combinations the exact set that matches your use and site, and at the minimum cost to you.

According to our correspondence, many Home Power readers have designed their own systems. They also tell us of many errors and many misspent dollars. It is possible to design a system using the trial and error method. It is also very expensive, very slow, and very frustrating. I don't mean to discourage anyone from

The Basics– System Design

Home Power #22 • April / May 1991 59

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